You’re Fired, Probably

Carson Cistulli · August 11, 2010 at 11:16 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

If ever you’d care to lose faith in all of humanity all at once — or, at least the middle- to upper-middle class, American portion of humanity — you’d do well simply to point your web browser to nytimes.com, direct your gaze towards the bottom right of the screen there, and behold the most popular articles of the day.

Invariably, your worst fears about the species — that we’re petty, self-obsessed — will be realized. Data show that a full 60-65% of these articles are about which kindergarten will best prepare your unborn child for Harvard; another 20% or so concern the health and beauty habits of French women (spoiler alert: they’re anorexic!); and the remainder are just borderline-pornographic descriptions of something called quinoa.

In short, it’s harrowing.

There are exceptions, though, and one such has occurred this week, as the story of Steve Slater, and his spirited departure from a twenty-year career as a flight attendant, has garnered a great deal of interest from the Times readership and, more generally, the American public.

If you’re not familiar with how Slater took care of bidness, here’s a brief account from the very popular Times article:

After a dispute with a passenger who stood to fetch luggage too soon on a full flight just in from Pittsburgh, Mr. Slater, 38 and a career flight attendant, got on the public-address intercom and let loose a string of invective.

Then, the authorities said, he pulled the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and slid down, making a dramatic exit not only from the plane but, one imagines, also from his airline career.

On his way out the door, he paused to grab a beer from the beverage cart. Then he ran to the employee parking lot and drove off, the authorities said.

If you’re on the Twitters or are a reader of the disgustingly well-written Walkoff Walk, then you’re probably aware of this Giant News Event. Though some old-codger types might balk at Slater’s antics, I think most of us have found ourselves in such a situation as we would gladly inform our bosses, co-workers, customers — anybody, really — where they might stick it and how hard.

Plus, the fact that he had the presence of mind to take a beer with him kinda makes this Slater character an all-star in everybody’s

Slater’s dramatic exit — and the public’s corresponding fascination with it — is relevant to USSM readers not only insofar as it’s totally awesome, but also because the events unfolded on the same day — and, really, almost at the same time (mid-day-ish) — as Don Wakamatsu’s considerably less hysterical and certainly less surprising departure from that great, offensively challenged airplane known as the Seattle Mariners.

I don’t know exactly what’s to be learned from these twin events, but the fact that they occurred almost simultaneously and that both represent instances of someone leaving his place of employment in a conspicuous manner — well, it seems to beg for some kind of comparison.

If anything, probably what we can learn is just how weird baseball managing is in the grand scheme of possible employment. Like, here are some of the jobs that my friends and family currently hold: lawyer, writing instructor, sitcom staff writer, other kind of lawyer, children’s librarian, baseball writer, advertising copy writer, computer programmer, third type of lawyer. (Note to self: meet other people besides lawyers.)

With the exception of the comedy writer, whose job is largely dependent on a network’s decision to pick up the relevant sitcom, all these people have one thing in common: mostly decent job security. In each of these cases, the likelihood of getting fired because of poor performance is pretty close to nil. Any of these people would have to reallyreallyreally eff up in order to be relieved of their duties.

Nor is that to say that this particular sample of the employed is super-good at their respective jobs. I mean, they’re probably all good. But even if they weren’t, it’d probably be easy enough to hide their shortcomings.

In baseball, though, managers are fired all the time. And they have almost no job security. And, because we have no sure way to judge a manager’s actual contribution to wins/losses, he can be fired — usually is fired — for circumstances entirely outside his control.

Consider this list of the thirty current managers, sorted by years as manager of their respective teams.

What jumps out first from this list is that a full six of those men weren’t managers at the beginning of the season. That means, right off the bat, that 20% of the employees from this particular group were fired just this year. Consider, by way of comparison, if Morrison & Foerster (the New York-based law firm known affectionately as MoFo) were to fire 20% of its associates. People would, in the parlance of today’s youth, freak the eff out.

Here’s what else we see: that the average manager can expect about 4.5 years of employment. But even that number is probably on the high side when we consider that (a) we’re rounding all the mid-year hires up and (b) the median number on that list is actually three years.

Three years? That’s crazy.

Let’s try a thought experiment. Say I’m a dude who can offer you a job. And say this job is pretty hot. But here’s the thing about it: you’re probably gonna be fired in 2013.

Would you take it?

If the men who’re employed as major leage managers are any indication, the answer is probably “yes” — because those are essentially the terms to which they’re agreeing when they sign their managerial contracts. Now, of course, there are quite a few managers who’re on their second or third or — in the case of Lou Piniella — five teams, which might skew the numbers upwards. Moreover, if someone’s managed for a major league team, he very likely will catch on at a lower level.

Perhaps it’s for these latter couple reasons that little drama surrounds managerial replacements. With the exception of former Seattle manager Mike Hargrove’s bizarre mid-season departure in 2007 — with the team standing at 45-33 and in the midst of an eight-game winning streak — there’ve been very few memorable managerial departures of late. (And there certainly haven’t been any involving emergency slides.) Perhaps managers know they’ll find employment elsewhere, if in a slightly less glamorous league. Perhaps, because many of them are ex-players, they understand that baseball is a game defined much more by failure than success.

Whatever the case may be, the principal draw of baseball’s managerial positions certainly isn’t job security.

Thanks to Dave Cameron and Zach Sanders for their help with Mike Hargrove info.

Comments

27 Responses to “You’re Fired, Probably”

  1. egreenlaw9 on August 12th, 2010 12:24 am

    Further proof of why this firing was both stupid and ineffectual.

    The M’s need continuity. I really though Wak could be that guy…

    What’s the point of hiring a guys who’s primary selling point is a ‘belief system’ when the guys that hire – and FIRE – him have no ‘belief system’ in him?

  2. pgreyy on August 12th, 2010 12:34 am

    Yes, if I were qualified to do so, I’d take on the job of MLB manager, knowing that it wouldn’t last forever.

    Somethings are worth getting the chance to say that you’ve done them, even if only briefly.

    No, Steven Slater is not a hero. (And I speak as someone who has worked in both retail and customer service.)

    Regardless of the wish-fulfillment you might imagine it was…it inconvenienced countless people for no other reason than he was incapable of doing the job he was hired to do.

    The passenger was wrong and should have been dealt with…just not the way this impulse-control deficient, ego-driven, selfish and immature (soon-to-be-former) JetBlue employee chose to deal with them.

    (Does that make me an old codger type? Damn, I’m only 45…)

  3. Sidi on August 12th, 2010 1:11 am

    No, Steven Slater is not a hero. (And I speak as someone who has worked in both retail and customer service.)

    But he spent 20 years in a tiny metal tube with all of the terrible customers you may have dealt with, screaming babies, trapped flatulence, and every other possible horrible thing. The majority of people on a plane are cramped, uncomfortable, and bitchy. A few are terrified and unhappy. A good number are getting kicked by the brat in the seat behind them. I did a year of food service once, and I’d say 5-10% of the customers were friendly and pleasant, and those good customers made up for a ton of assholes. I’d bet airline passengers are more like .1% friendly and happy.

    I’m not condoning the actions, I’m just a bit amazed that any man could survive 20 years in that sort of environment without pushing someone out of the emergency door at 20,000 feet.

  4. SonsofBuckyJacobsen on August 12th, 2010 1:20 am

    Please keep the real world out of the content on this blog. Regardless of how things dovetail into baseball in this piece, we can go anywhere on the net to see what new misery is out there. Baseball is and always was an escape. A blessed escape from a world gone mad.

  5. jpieper on August 12th, 2010 1:23 am

    Then just don’t read the post.

  6. smb on August 12th, 2010 1:36 am

    Agreed jpieper…anything that helps me put our personal baseball hell in perspective is a-okay with me.

    If you’re a career baseball guy, you will probably make more money in one season of managing a shitty team to 105 losses than you will in the next ten years at AAA, or as a bench coach on a different shitty team, or as a scout, etc, etc…I think that’s the bottom line. You have to get to the highest echelon within the uber-elite MLB coaching circle to be one of the guys who potentially wouldn’t take an MLB job because of environmental factors with the subject team/city/franchise.

    I feel pretty safe predicting right now that whomever is the next M’s manager will take the blame and get the axe before we have another legit playoff-caliber team. But he will be paid nicely.

  7. dartjeff on August 12th, 2010 2:53 am

    Given I live in San Francisco now, I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Morrison & Foerster actually originated in SF and still has its headquarters there. I guess East Coast bias exists in more than just sports ;)

  8. Willmore2000 on August 12th, 2010 6:06 am

    Just out of curiosity, what was the help about Mike Hargrove, that it required the help of two other bloggers? Considering that he’s only mentioned once, it can’t be the record of the team when he quit, there’s internet for that. If it’s the fact of him quitting in general, then the paragraph makes no sense. You said that Hargrove’s exit was the memorable exception, now how memorable was it, that you needed outside help referencing it?

    Otherwise, solid article.

  9. edgar_is_good on August 12th, 2010 6:29 am

    The average duration may be even shorter, in that these numbers are averages of _current_ managers. If one included all managers over the past few years, there’d be even more short-timers. Pretty remarkable. That said, I’d probably take the job if offered!

  10. TaylorD7 on August 12th, 2010 6:30 am

    MoFo did fire a ton of people all at once last year (as did a lot comparable law firms, and I suppose people did freak the eff out). See: http://abovethelaw.com/2009/01/nationwide-layoff-watch-morrison-foerster-suffers-significant-layoffs-53-lawyers-148-staffers/

  11. SCL on August 12th, 2010 7:32 am

    TaylorD7 — MoFo’s was actually a lay-off due to economic hardship. That’s a little bit different, but good find anyway.

  12. Chris on August 12th, 2010 7:47 am

    Slater was later arrested while having intercourse in his home. He is a stud.

  13. G-Bo on August 12th, 2010 9:25 am

    2 Comments:

    1. Mmmmm, quinoa porn…

    2. Given the number of posters who are both familiar with MoFo and posted about it, I’m horrified at the number of attorneys that read this blog. (Message to those posters: Get back to work! You have billable hour requirements!)

  14. Paul B on August 12th, 2010 10:01 am

    As others have alluded to, managers do have job security of a sort. After they get fired, they usually resurface somewhere — if not as a major league manager then certainly as a coach, scout, AAA manager or in an advisory position in the front office. Or even as a broadcaster.

    If I had time, I’d do a “where are they now” for all the former Mariner managers.

  15. wibnrml on August 12th, 2010 10:37 am

    Slater was later arrested while having intercourse in his home. He is a stud.

    To bad the handcuffs were put on after the fact.

  16. Chad on August 12th, 2010 10:41 am

    Here’s the list of all the M’s managers with links to the own pages…

  17. Breadbaker on August 12th, 2010 11:26 am

    If we apply the rigors that Dave applied to Poz’s article, I don’t think this one pasts the test either.

    In my job, I am evaluated on some very specific financial criteria as well as a sort of “don’t be an asshole” general criterion. The number of people who can hold my job, so long as they are qualified, is essentially infinite; the marketplace has some corrections, but if I do the work competently and am not an asshole, all I have to do is meet the financial criteria and I can stay essentially forever.

    There are 30 major league baseball manager jobs. If a really competent guy came along and all 30 were held by people with whom ownership was content, that guy would have to wait.

    On the other hand, there are 30 baseball manager jobs. If there were only five or six really competent guys who could fill them, the other 24 or 25 jobs would still need to be filled.

    Moreover, as we’ve all discussed here ad nauseum, no one really has a clue what the manager’s job is or how to measure success or failure other than in wins or losses.

    So to compare a manager to a lawyer, where there are infinite jobs available and anyone can put out a shingle with a law degree and a bar admission, or a children’s librarian, where there are few jobs that almost never turn over and not a whole lot of folks clamoring to take them, is silly. A blogger can’t be fired either; what does that have to do with Don Wakamatsu?

    If you looked at jobs that are relatively similar to a baseball manager’s job, say the COO of Fortune 50 companies, you’d find a lot of similarities. There is a lot of movement. There are a lot of undeserved raises and longterm commitments, where the organization’s success is based more on outside factors than those within the individual’s control. And there are a lot of firings for the same reason, when things don’t go well.

    The difference, and this is why eventually you’d have to conclude that you don’t have any real parallels outside sports itself (and that the other professional leagues aren’t much different) is that there are no zero-sum games in business. Ford’s profit does not mean General Motors must run at a loss. But in sports, the average team success will always be exactly .500. You can’t really analogize that to any other area.

  18. voxpoptart on August 12th, 2010 12:10 pm

    Carson, what you’re missing is that baseball managers have a *normal* level of job security in modern America. You told us about your friends, but my friends and I are more representative:

    * a drive-thru fast food attendant with a summer camp counselor job
    * a part-time retail clerk
    * a customer service rep
    * a car mechanic
    * a newly hired teacher
    * two assistant professors, one of them juggling three part-time jobs
    * a percussionist and a violinist (living together), with five jobs between them
    * a waiter
    * a bartender
    * a barista
    * a bank teller with a part-time clerk job to help pay bills
    * an unemployed welder who got rehired just long enough to lose access to food stamps before being laid off again
    * two self-employed web designers / craftspeople

    I’m a self-employed tutor. My wife has worked for ten years with the same company in a job that would qualify her for your friendship circle, Carson, and as long as that stays true I’m a very lucky man — but in my world, she’s the outlier. And whether you know it or not, you run into my world a lot more often than I’m allowed glances at yours. A baseball manager is — and I say this with absolutely no criticism of managers implied — a lucky man.

  19. Axtell on August 12th, 2010 12:39 pm

    Why Slater has become a pseudo-celebrity is beyond me. Every one of us who has ever worked with the public has dealt with tiresome customers. So this guy does the immature thing, flips out, lets loose a curse-filled tirade on the PA, endangers every one on the ground in his haste to quit?

    No, this guy is not a hero. No, he’s not to be celebrated. Why this was brought to USS Mariner is beyond me.

    Why was Wak let go? It came down to Griffey. Griffey was brought back this year even though any one objective enough to see clearly knew he was done. When Wak no longer could see it to put Griffey in the lineup, Junior did the same thing as Slater, cried and went home.

    What Griffey did before he left was sour the entire clubhouse, ruining any chance of Wak ever having a chance at leading that team again. It’s unfortunate, too, that upper management chose Griffey over Wak.

  20. MKT on August 12th, 2010 1:08 pm

    No, this guy is not a hero. No, he’s not to be celebrated. Why this was brought to USS Mariner is beyond me.

    Yeah, I agree. It’s understandable that Slater is newsworthy, but he’s not a hero and as for bringing him into the article and for that matter the article itself: my reaction is meh. A lot of words were expended to make the point that baseball managers get fired early and often. Gee thanks.

    jpieper writes “Then just don’t read the post.” No that doesn’t work because one doesn’t know that the post isn’t worth reading until after one has already read it.

    One of the great strengths of USSMariner is that I know even without reading the posts that almost all of them are worth reading. I defended Carson in an earlier post but this one is not up to the standards of USSMariner.

  21. eternal on August 12th, 2010 1:11 pm

    French women aren’t anorexic. In fact, I bet they eat much better than your typical fat, American woman who prides herself on salads everyday for lunch while constantly snacking on “low-fat” twizzlers and “no carb” burgers without buns. Don’t hate. Appreciate. and realize that as a country, we such at eating well.

  22. bongo on August 12th, 2010 1:19 pm

    Hey, you gotta admit that it takes a certain kind of “genius” to fire the first Asian-American MLB manager on Asian-American Day at Safeco Field!
    http://www.nwasianweekly.com/2010/08/community-distraught-over-wakamatsu-firing/

    I am trying to imagine ways in which the Mariners could “improve” upon this level of idiocy, but it’s been tough.

    Even Walter O’Malley, not one for “political correctness”, wouldn’t have traded Jackie Robinson to the Giants on Jackie Robinson appreciation day!

  23. MrZDevotee on August 12th, 2010 2:02 pm

    Breadbaker–
    Your auto industry analogy sort of fails… There are a finite number of autos that will be sold in any number of years… And GM and Ford ARE in direct competition for the customers who will buy them (ie, possible wins). When a customer chooses a GM over a Ford (as they should), that pretty much is analogous to a W for GM and an L for Ford.

    I agree with your overall post, and your other examples, just not that one. I thought it actually kinda supported the original article, if it had been about the auto industry instead of a stewardess-dude. If Chrysler has too many losing seasons, Iacocca gets fired, and a bunch of Germans might buy them out! (Oh wait, that sorta happened, although not really… Just the most cliched hypothetical example that came to mind) It all depends on your value of “zero” when you’re working at the whims of investors who “zero-sum” their stocks as a positive number.

  24. Wells on August 12th, 2010 2:41 pm

    Why is this slop put up on USS Mariner?

  25. Breadbaker on August 12th, 2010 4:38 pm

    MrZDevotee, you missed the point of my auto analogy. GM and Ford may be in direct competition for any particular sale, but that doesn’t mean they can’t both be profitable at the same time. And their executives are compensated on the basis of how the companies return on equity to shareholders is doing, not on each individual sale. Coke can do all right when Pepsi is doing all right, too. The Angels, A’s, Rangers and Mariners cannot do all right in the same season.

  26. MKT on August 12th, 2010 7:32 pm

    GM and Ford may be in direct competition for any particular sale, but that doesn’t mean they can’t both be profitable at the same time.

    Correct. Also, while it is true that “There are a finite number of autos that will be sold in any number of years”, it is incorrect to conclude that the number of automobiles being sold is therefore FIXED (or constant). If the number were constant, then yes it would be a zero-sum game. But “finite” is not the same as “constant”; there can be changes in the auto market which make GM and Ford BOTH better off (improvements in automobiles, road improvements, reduction in the price of gas, safer driving practices, etc. etc.). I.e., definitely not a zero-sum game.

    It’s one of the things that you learn in Econ 101: firms may be in “competition” with each other, but competition in a market is not the same thing as baseball teams competing with each other for wins — wins are both finite and fixed, and so baseball is a zero-sum game. The automobile market is not.

  27. The Dreeze on August 15th, 2010 7:05 pm

    Why is Hargrove’s departure bizarre? I thought Ichiro said he wouldn’t sign with Hargrove as the manager, so Hargrove left. Do I remember this wrong? Seems more typical than bizarre.

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