Maybe the most important thing the Mariners have to do all offseason is hire a new manager to steer the team going forward. Or maybe that’s literally the least important thing on their to-do list. Who among us can say? Keep this point in mind. It’s kind of the whole point of this post. The Mariners have to hire a new manager because they couldn’t reach an agreement with Eric Wedge. That would be one not incorrect way to put what all happened here.
The Mariners have already started interviewing candidates, and the names they’ve been linked to are mostly the names every team is linked to when they have a managerial opening. This should be settled within a matter of one or two or three weeks, and then we’ll officially know the name of the team’s next major scapegoat. While the Wedge chapter arrived at a weird and uncomfortable ending, my sense is that fans aren’t too broken up over losing him. He didn’t make the Mariners win, after all. He didn’t feel like a good manager.
And Wedge was in the news today. Turns out he’s going to interview for the open Chicago Cubs position. He isn’t thought to be the favorite, but he’s going to get himself in the offices, interviewing with another team trying to progress from rebuilding to contention. On its own, that isn’t so remarkable, but the reason I bring this up is because of who’s running the Cubs these days. The Cubs have turned themselves into one of baseball’s more forward-thinking, analytical organizations, the kind of organization we thought we had here a few years ago. The Cubs seem like they’re doing things right. They’re going to interview Eric Wedge. Many people here were unimpressed by Eric Wedge.
What the hell do we actually know? That’s the question I always inevitably come back to whenever I’m reading about a managerial hiring process. What we know are the names of candidates. We can research their histories, and we can pay attention to whatever quotes they might offer. We can’t do any analysis. Even if a track record exists, we don’t know how to interpret it.
At least from the fan perspective, the managerial hiring process is like ordering off an indecipherable menu, a menu written in hieroglyphics. You can try to figure something out from what you’re presented, but you’re not going to know anything about the entree. You’re lucky if you figure out a single ingredient. Also, the cooks in the kitchen change by the day, so you don’t know the conditions responsible for your meal. And after the meal, you don’t actually know if it was good. You know whether you had a negative or positive overall experience, but you don’t actually know why. Stretch it far enough and this simile kind of falls apart.
The most insane thing about managers is also the most obvious thing. We have no idea who’s good. We have no idea who’s going to be good. We have no idea who was good in retrospect. We don’t know how much a manager actually matters. We don’t know how much depends on the environment into which a manager is placed. It stands to reason someone who’s a good manager with Team A might not necessarily be a good manager with Team B. Players are different, mood’s different, situation’s different, manager performance is different. We don’t know a damned thing. I’m not even convinced the teams doing the hiring know a damned thing. I mean, yeah, they’ll come away with some preferred candidates, based on the interviews, but those teams can’t tell you what difference the next manager should make. If the Mariners picked up Mike Trout tomorrow, they’d be, I don’t know, eight or so wins better. If the Mariners hired Chip Hale tomorrow, they’d have hired Chip Hale, and that would mean something or nothing, and we’d never know what it meant.
Gun to my head, I’d say the best manager in baseball is Joe Maddon. I’ll freely admit a lot of that is just based on results, and he makes some tactical mistakes, and I’m just biased in favor of the demonstrably open-minded. I feel like Joe Girardi did a great job in New York this year, but I don’t know. I used to think Mike Scioscia was phenomenal, but more recently people have wanted him fired because the Angels, who always overachieved, have underachieved. Terry Francona was apparently good for a while and then suddenly ineffective and he had to go somewhere else to be welcomed. The point is that the whole damned thing’s so mysterious I can’t believe people following a hiring process end up with rooting interests.
Who can really pick a favorite managerial candidate? Or, who can reasonably support such a pick? Every year, this is such a big story for a handful of teams. It feels important, getting a new manager and coaching staff in the dugout. It’s also a story that’s just about impossible to discuss. It should always be reported on — it’s something that’s happening, after all — but what is there to be done beyond the reporting, save for repeating the reporting? How are we supposed to know who could work here? How are we supposed to know how well someone could work here? How are we supposed to pretend we know anything?
This isn’t an original topic, and I’m far from the only person who feels like this. It’s just kind of mind-blowing to me, every time. Here’s this thing, this seemingly important thing that’s happening with the Mariners, and, welp. We’re frequently made to look stupid by baseball when we make our projections or whatnot, but at least we can have facts on our side and the knowledge that over bigger samples, we’ll be right more than we’ll be wrong. There aren’t any facts with managerial candidates, not facts that we know what to do with. So there’s this sense of feeling like I ought to have an opinion, but knowing that I shouldn’t. I’d like the Mariners to keep away from Dusty Baker, but even that I can’t support with meaningful data. It’s just an automatic response.
Pretty soon, the Mariners are going to hire a new manager, and we’ll never have any idea how good of a job he did here after it’s over. We’ll know how the team did and that will color our feelings, if not determine them completely, but that won’t be good analysis. The truth is it’ll forever remain a mystery, or at least effectively forever. Maybe you personally don’t trust the Mariners to hire the right candidate. Who would you trust? A team I’d trust is going to interview Eric Wedge.