Revisiting Early Managerial Changes

When should Terry Francona go? Obviously, whenever he wants. The two-time World Series winner isn't going anywhere; nor should he.

Still, with the Boston Red Sox starting 0-4, the worry in some corners of New England is palpable well beyond the Massachusetts border. Other Boston fans have a more sanguine view, as one observer I spoke to noted: "I've seen the Red Sox lose a road series before."

A four-game losing streak could even be taken as an omen for the Red Sox. In 2007, Boston's last World Series victory, the team had three such losing streaks. In 2004, the Red Sox lost five straight to start the month of May, then another four straight from May 31 through June 4. (They also lost three in a row to begin the ALCS against the Yankees.)

Still, if Theo Epstein goes against every parameter that has marked his successful tenure and rashly fires his manager on the basis of a ludicrously small sample, should he expect huge changes? Let's look at some examples.

Back in 2002, the Detroit Tigers believed Phil Garner was the right man to pilot their team. But after an 0-6 start, all of that changed somehow. Garner got the ax, and Luis Pujols took the helm. Rejuvenated, the Tigers won 55 games – but also, lost 100. Still, the evidence is clear: Detroit avoided a 0-162 record (Garner's pace) with the change.

In 1985, the New York Yankees struggled to a 6-10 start under Yogi Berra. George Steinbrenner fired the living legend and replaced him with Billy Martin, who helped New York to a 91-54 finish. The team's 97 wins came within two victories of first place. If only Steinbrenner had been more impulsive, it might have been enough to give the Yankees a pennant.

That's not to say an earlier firing always works. For instance, Steinbrenner also fired Bob Lemon after just 14 games, and a 6-8 record, in 1982. Gene Michael (44-42) and Clyde King (29-33) didn't do much better. Perhaps Lemon needed to go sooner, or this needed to be one of the five times Steinbrenner hired Martin. Or perhaps replacing Reggie Jackson with Dave Collins wasn't an inspired idea.

Still, rashly firing the manager can happen too early. Back in 1954, Phil Cavaretta got his walking papers in Spring Training after apparently expressing pessimism to the owner. Despite the change to Stan Hack, Chicago finished 64-90.

So as the Red Sox (or, more accurately, some callers into WEEI) mull the change, they must be careful. Unjustly firing the manager over a very small body of work is as much an art as it is a science.


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